This is now the 29th chapter of “Of Wind and Wings”. See the table of contents here.
“Hi, Mr. Ed!” The Grubb was sitting at a table at Mr. Brown’s house with his ever-present notebook in front of him. “Guess what? I figured it out!”
“Hi Grubb,” Ed said. “How are you feeling? You look better.” The Grubb just smiled. “OK, what did you figure out?”
“You know…” The Grubb looked around the room, but all that was in it were his parents, Liza and Mr. Brown. He lowered his voice. “The ultimate answer… You know, Alpha.”
Ed turned to Mr. Brown for help.
“If you remember, The Grubb has been trying to figure out the fine-structure constant,” Mr. Brown said. “It’s about interactions in quantum physics. I’ve never been too strong in the field myself, if you take my meaning, and don’t totally get this talk about the strength of electromagnetic forces, particle interactions or some such; it all seems to be electro-magic to me. The Grubb has been saying that he figured out the significance of it seen he arrived, but that he had to wait until you were here before he could tell me.”
“Right,” The Grubb said. He looked at Ed. “Here goes. What’s seven times seven?”
“Seven times seven is 49, I think,” Ed said. “To tell you the truth, I’m spoiled by having a calculator or phone. But I’ll stick to it, 49.”
“Right, 49,” The Grubb said. “And then, what’s seven times seven?”
“Didn’t you just ask? 49 again.” Ed sounded slightly exasperated.
“Right. And what is seven times seven?”
“Grubb, you are repeating yourself. Are you sure you are OK and don’t need more rest? I’ve said it twice now, it’s 49.”
The Grubb studied his notebook for a moment, then looked back at Ed. “No, I’m fine, you just aren’t listening. To put it simple for you, what I meant by this is, what is seven times seven plus seven times seven plus seven times seven?”
“Three time seven squared?” Ed asked. The Grubb looked blank. Ed figured he didn’t understand the term “square”. “OK, that would be 50 times three, which is 150…”
“I said nothing about 50, did I?”
“…and 150 minus three is 147. No, you didn’t say ‘50’, but it makes it easier to do the math mentally. 50 is 49 plus one, so… Oh, never mind. Seven times seven plus seven times seven plus seven times seven equals 147, right?” Ed counted them out on his fingers to be sure he said the correct number of multiplications and additions.
“Exactly!” The Grubb sat up straight and smiled broadly, as if proud of himself.
“Grubb?” Mr. Brown said. “The constant is about 137, or, technically one over 137, not 147.”
“Right,” The Grubb said. “We only used up six sevens. We need seven sevens. So subtract seven.”
“That would still be 140,” Ed said. “And there is no place else to put another seven, even if we had one.”
“Right. We don’t need another seven, only seven sevens. But we’ve only used two threes.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t remember any threes.” Ed said.
The Grubb huffed impatiently, and then began to speak as if to a child. “The two threes are simple. We multiplied seven by seven three times. That’s once.” He held up one finger on his left hand. “We used three thingies, you know, add, subtract and multiply…”
“Operators? Arithmetic signs?”
‘Yeah, operations, I mean opera, that is oporoetic.. signs, whatever, so that’s two threes. Like I said, two.” He used his right hand to help hold up a second finger. “We need to subtract three to get the third three. Three threes.” He used his right hand to move another finger up on his left and held up the three fingers.
“Yes, that is 137, 140 minus three” Ed said. “But Grubb, what about the two minus signs?”
“There are a few things you need to understand,” The Grubb said. “First, there are three times, two pluses and two minuses, so seven signs total, which is a good sign. Seven. But then, the two pluses and the two minuses cancel, leaving just the three multiplications, which we already counted as our first three. So the pluses and minuses don’t mean anything except making the second and third type of sign for our second three. That extra seven goes away, too. So while seven is significant, it doesn’t mess things up by being the eighth seven. Got it? It’s simple…”
“But Grubb,” Mr. Brown said, “what does this have to do with quantum physics?”
“Seven sevens and three threes? Everything! It all works!”
“But Grubb,” Mr. Brown started.
“Asymmetrical symmetries,” Liza said. “That’s what he is talking about. Stop a second and think. The problem is that you are looking at it the wrong way, from the wrong direction. I studied this constant thingy when The Grubb first talked about it. It is a dimensionless entity, that is, there are no units to it. It isn’t pounds or kilograms or feet or centimeters or even meters per second or joules per kilowatt or anything. It doesn’t depend on man-made measures, so it is a universal number in the truest sense of the word. And it relates to a lot of different things in the quantum physics world and can be derived experimentally. It is obviously important, as well as universal. But why is it? What does it mean?”
“Right, Mrs. Smyth,” The Grubb said. “And now we know.”
“I still don’t get it,” Ed said, shaking his head
“You are still being too literal. This is not literal, it’s closer to that ‘time that never was’ that we’ve been talking about,” Liza said. “You are seeing it as science, not as ‘Other’. We are looking at it from a different point of view. An ancient one. At one time numbers had meanings beyond simple count. They had inner lives. They had characteristics and values. Numbers weren’t just these things we use when we say ‘one plus one’, they created magic, took people to new worlds. Numbers lived, breathed and meant things.”
“She knows,” The Grubb said.
“So all of this stuff that The Grubb is talking about might seem meaningless to a physicist, even simplistic to the point of absurdity, but if you talked to our great-ten-times-removed grandparents, they’d know. We need to look at it in their way. Think of the trinities we see everywhere from folklore to Christianity and all of the references to seven in myth and religion. Seven sevens and three threes are the numbers of the angles. This is magic of the highest order. Perfect perfection. Seven is Truth and Understanding, along with perfection. Three, beyond the sacred triad, the trilogy, beyond it being used as perfection, Three is Creation itself. Truth, Understanding and Creation. What better trinity could you ask for? Let’s add in Spirituality, Luck, Completeness and Perfection. Rounds out to a great seven, doesn’t it?”
Ed was struck by an idea. “What you are saying is that this definition that The Grubb is giving is relating it back to how The Others see the world. They can manipulate time and space and matter. They have Understanding of the deepest kind. They see it; they understand it; they can get into it. Creation. They can change it. They can make it better. How do they do it? How did they heal The Grubb? How is this possible and how does it relate to our world? This is the connection: your numerological pseudoscience bridges the gap between our vision of science and their vision of magic. The world of the others is just a small quantum leap in an odd direction. And the numbers of the angels? They aren’t angels, you know, they just seem like it to us.”
“Yes, Mr. Ed, you get it now,” The Grubb said. “See? It’s simple.”
“Hold on a minute,” Mr. Brown said. But he and Liza started talking over each other and The Grubb repeated his math and the numbers; Mr. Grubb, who seemed totally baffled by the entire conversation, was asking his son about the finer points of 49 plus 49 and other little things, and Mrs. Grubb tried to support Liza’s word. Ed was lost in the cacophony until a single voice cut through it.
“Cousin Grubb, how are you? I heard you had hurt yourself, but you look fine to me.”
Everyone stopped and turned to the voice.
The speaker reminded Ed of a 35 year old version of Mr. Brown, though with mortal sized eyebrows.
“Phillip!” The Grubb said. “I’m glad you came. I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
“I’m sorry, Grubb, but I don’t drive so it’s hard to make out here.”
The man turned to Mr. Brown. Ed thought he saw a tear in his friend’s eye.
“Philip, this is a surprise. Welcome home.” Mr. Brown stuck out a hand to shake.
Philip, ignoring the hand, grabbed his father in a big hug.
“I got his number from his mother, you know,” Liza said. “I left a message about The Grubb, the party and all but didn’t hear back. I’m not sure how he go out here, since he doesn’t drive.”
“I brought him.”
Ed jumped at the familiar voice.
“Lauren,” Liza said. “I do so much wish to apologize for chasing you away when you were last here. I am so sorry.”
“Mother, you did not ‘drive me away’. My own past drove me away,” Lauren said. She gave her mother a small hug. “You will be proud of me. I decided to face my fears and stopped at Gossenmare Park on the way out and thought things through, figured them out. I now understand, but waited until I knew you did too before returning.”
“Oh, Philip and I go way back, but I’ve been spending more time with him these last couple of weeks since I’ve been back in Town. We’ve grown close.” Ed felt a knot in his stomach. They were close? How close? “So when my half-brother said he needed a ride home…” Ed relaxed.
“Your half-brother? How long have you known?” Liza asked.
“You haven’t been that good at keeping the secret, Mother, at least not from me. And as I said, I sat at Gossenmare Park and figured things out. Besides other things, it was full of ghosts, full of memories. Not all of the memories out there are ancient, Mother, some are much more recent. Perhaps 42 years old…” She winked.
“42, isn’t that the answer to the Ultimate Question, not this alpha claptrap?” Ed had stayed silent, but couldn’t help but try to join the conversation with such an opening.
“So it is,” Lauren said. “At least according to Douglas Adams. But there are other answers as well. And there are times when you have to be with someone to seek the answers.” She stepped closer to Ed, almost touching. He took her hands in his. It felt right.
“Sometimes there are no numerical values to the important questions,” Mrs. Grubb said.
“You are right, Aunt Martha. And we aren’t here to argue philosophy. How is my cousin?”
“He is good, and you can go over and talk to him. But I’d be careful around Winston for now. Perhaps it would be better to tell my brother about your parentage on another day. It is difficult to become a new father at his age. And with him just regaining his son, does he need a new daughter?”
Lauren gave Ed a quick kiss, released his hands, gave Mrs. Grubb a hug and kiss on the cheek and gave her mother another hug before going over to talk to The Grubb.
“Of course I knew,” Mrs. Grubb said to Ed, as if guessing his question. “I think you know that I can see the past, so this wasn’t very well hidden from me. But I have other talents, as well. Reading people is my specialty, if you will. People always wondered how I ended up with Grubb, but it is just that talent. I knew he was absolutely perfect for me and I will continue to say that I was correct right up until the day I die. I think The Grubb is proof of the point, don’t you? So there is your answer, if you needed one.”
He still had a few questions, but most of them had been answered. The unanswered would wait.
He walked over and joined Lauren in talking to The Grubb. Without a thought he took her hand. She gave his hand a squeeze and continued to ask The Grubb about the answer to Alpha.
Yes, for the midterm he was quite content with the answers he already had.